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What does volunteering mean to Michael?

Our volunteers are a creative bunch!

One of our Engage Volunteers Michael has written this poem on what being a Horniman Volunteer means to him for Volunteers Week:

 

What does being a Horniman volunteer mean?

Being asked ten times a day (at least) “Where is the queen?”

 

Our beloved bees aren’t the only ones that questions are asked about.

“What’s in here?” “Harvest Mice,” we say, “But they haven’t yet come out.”

 

There’s our faithful stuffed fox, the Nature Base star, whom children love to hug,

And the microscope to see up close a beetle, wasp or bug.

 

For exercise, there’s paper to be picked up off the floor,

And it’s always time to sharpen those darned pencils just once more.

 

Quiet times, busy times, Winter, Spring, Summer and Fall,

Ask any volunteer, they’ll tell you - Half-term’s the worst of all.

                  

There’s school groups, art groups, visitors young and old.

From the latter, many Horniman memories of yesteryear I’ve been told.

 

Friendly staff and visitors, a pleasant working atmosphere,

Are partly the reason I continue on, gladly, year by year.

 

That, and the friendship of the other volunteers, all trying hard to please,

And the reward of helping children learn-about nature and the wonderful bees!

 

Michael Viner, 2016

 

A volunteer's favourite object

Katie’s favourite handling object is the hedgehog.

“The hedgehog is my favourite item because I have never seen one in the wild!" Katie says.

"With numbers declining in recent years due to the use of pesticides which reduce the amount of insects for hedgehogs to eat, and housing development in urban areas, it is unlikely that I will get to see one - though I'll keep my eyes peeled, of course!”

Peter doesn’t seem so sure though! 

What's your favourite object? Tell us or show us on social: @HornimanMuseum / IG: HornimanMuseumGardens.

The Artquest research residency

Artquest in partnership with the Horniman are offering a research residency for one London based artist.

The award includes:

  • £3000 to engage with the work and collections of the museum
  • £850 towards a public facing event showcasing the thinking and research undertaken during the residency
  • Privileged access to museum objects and curators

We are particularly interested in developing relationships with artists who want to engage with people as well as collections. Applicants should consider in particular how their work might engage visitors with the museum’s displayed collection and encourage participation with these displays. Please note the African Worlds gallery and the Centenary gallery will both close in September 2016 for redevelopment until 2018 however this does not mean artists cannot engage with the anthropology collection.

Please note, that this is not a studio residency and applicants are expected to have their own studio / workspace to complete any work.

Find out if you are eligible for the residency and apply on Artquest.

Travellers' tails

Inspired by the Travellers' Tails project, we asked our visitors, 'Where would you like to explore?'

Since March, our Natural History Gallery has been home to the Travellers' Tails display. This display brings together the first European painting of an Australian animal, 'The Kongouro from New Holland' by George Stubbs, alongside the Horniman's taxidermy mount of an Eastern Grey Kangaroo and describes Captain's Cook's first voyage to the Pacific, where he encountered new landscapes, people, plants and animals. 

The Travellers' Tails project is a collaboration between five museums investigating the history of exploration, art and science. It brings together artists, scientists, explorers and museum professionals to investigate the nature of exploration in the Enlightenment era, how the multitude of histories can be explored and experienced in a gallery, heritage and museum setting, and to question what exploration means today.

Inspired by Travellers' Tails, we asked our visitors and our online audience to share their thoughts on exploration. The four questions we asked were: Where would you like to explore? What is left to explore? Exploration is... and My favourite explorer is...

We recieved some interesting answers. Some wanted to explore places they had never been to before. 

Some wanted to travel to hot countries, and some to cold. 

Some people wanted to go back in time to explore earth when the dinosaurs were alive. 

Many people suggested that still left to explore was the deepest oceans and outer space. 

Have you got a burning desire to explore somewhere? Who is your favourite explorer? Tweet us with the hashtag #TravellersTails to share your stories. 

Five Things I’ve Learned Through Volunteering

For Volunteers Week this year, one of our Engage Volunteers, Catherine Miller, tells us her highlights of being an Engage Volunteer and why she keeps coming back to the Horniman: 

It’s been four months since I joined the small group huddled outside the staff entrance to the Horniman, waiting to be let in from the February cold to do our first Engage training session. Since then, I’ve manned the handling trolley, handed out colourful cloaks for Pitchy Patchy and gazed at bees on most Saturdays. It’s not exactly the usual way to spend a weekend - so why do I give up my time? Well, every week on Engage is different, and I’ve learned a lot about the Horniman, its weird and wonderful exhibits and volunteering in general. Here are my top five lessons:

1. Volunteers come from all walks of life. It’s fantastic to work alongside people from all over the world (India, Italy and New Zealand to name but a few) and all sorts of day-jobs. Everyone brings their own unique perspective and it’s also fascinating to find out how and why people got involved in the museum. For some, it’s a chance to sample a heritage career, and for others, it’s a rewarding hobby. Working as part of the Engage team is a great chance to meet new and diverse people.

2. Learning comes in many forms. As a teacher, I know how easy it is to get wrapped up in ‘levels of progress’ and exam results, but at the Horniman we see all sorts of people learning in many different ways - from feeling a snake skin for the first time to watching a jellyfish dance around its tank. There’s a moment when a visitor’s eyes light up and you know they’re intrigued by something. That spark makes our work worth it.

3. Each family is unique. During the week I work with teenagers, so interacting with younger children and families has been a fun experience for me. Something that has surprised me is how individual even the smallest visitors can be. Some are shy and wide-eyed, clinging on to their adult’s leg until someone demonstrates that it’s perfectly safe to touch the ostrich egg... others are brimming with knowledge and enthusiasm... and others just want to run around! Then there are the super stylish toddlers in catwalk-ready tutus and dinosaur onesies. Not that I’m jealous…

4. Taxidermy is a talking point - and surprisingly relevant even in today’s world. There’s something quite powerful in being able to view a once-living animal, not just in a virtual space or as a photo but in three dimensions in front of you. Being able to touch an example is even better, hence the delighted reactions to our Chicken Turtle. Taxidermied animals have also sparked off some interesting conversations about life and death with younger visitors, for whom the concept of preserving a body can raise many questions.

5. Bees are endlessly fascinating. I've learned lots of bits and bobs about all the objects on the handling trolley and some of the museum's other exhibits, but I have to say the bees are one of my favourite things. I can stand and stare at the Horniman’s hive for hours, watching the workers bustle to and fro or trying to spot the elusive queen. It was amazing to see the change in their behaviour from winter to spring as the group woke up from their slumber and began to collect pollen in earnest. I’ve been inspired to find out more about them and even read a fantastic novel, Laline Paull’s ‘The Bees’. I’ll never look at a common honeybee the same way!

Volunteering at the Horniman has given me such a valuable insight into the ‘behind-the-scenes’ workings of a museum, and allowed me to meet a wide range of interesting people, from staff to visitors to my fellow volunteers.

I hope to learn more as my volunteering journey continues!

Bobby wins Volunteer of the Year

Today marks the start of Volunteer Week (1-12 June) and we’re extremely pleased to announce that Bobby Ogogo, one of our youth supported volunteers, has won Volunteer of the Year at this year’s Museum + Heritage Awards. Congratulations Bobby!

From 2015, Bobby has been working closely with the Learning and Volunteering Team to help us develop an accessible route into volunteering for those with additional needs. During his time with us, Bobby has had a hugely positive impact whilst volunteering each week on our object handling trolley alongside our brilliant Engage volunteers, and his contribution to the Horniman and the team was recognised at the Awards, alongside Group Volunteers Award winners, the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum volunteers. 

It goes without saying that this award is a wonderful acknowledgement of all that Bobby brings to the Horniman – enthusiasm, commitment and an unwavering smile to name a few – and we are extremely proud!

Here’s a bit from Bobby about his experience:

How did it feel to win the award?

It was good to win! I didn’t expect it at all. I thought I wasn’t going to get it. I felt excited – it felt special. I enjoyed my mum and her partner coming. We haven’t been to any awards like this – it was the first time I’ve won such a big award!

Doing my speech was amazing – it was so nice for everyone to listen to it. Was I nervous? Me? Nervous? No way!

What do you like about volunteering at the museum?

Volunteering is good – I like working with different people and children who visit the museum. I talk to them and ask questions and they can touch and feel the museum objects which is great!

I choose different objects to work with when I volunteer. Today I worked with the zebra skin – I’ve never felt one before. It was rough!

Travel back in time at the Prehistoric Garden

This summer, a new display of Prehistoric plants and living fossils is being planted in the Horniman Gardens. Here, we introduce you to some of the plants you will be seeing in the new bed.  

You may have noticed that our gardeners have started some work in the conifer bed on the lawn above the herbaceous border. This is going to be our new Prehistoric Garden. The theme will tie in with our current major exhibition, Dinosaurs: Monster Families but it will also remain as a permanent planting after the exhibition has moved on. 

We have kept three trees in place from the original planting: the yew, the redwood and the Lawson cypress. We will be replanting the rest of the area with other plants known as 'living fossils' - species that have been around for thousands of years. This planting will include a ginko and a Wollemi pine, as well as tree ferns, cycads and a monkey puzzle tree. 

The tree ferns, or Dicksonia antarctica, were particularly appealing to low-slung herbivorous dinosaurs like the stegosaurs because they did not grow too high off the ground. Today, ferns have prospered, with over 12,000 named species. Perhaps because there are not any dinosaurs left to eat them!

Monkey Puzzle trees, or Araucaria araucana, were around in the Mesozoic Era - which is sometimes known as the Age of Conifers. Conifers were some of the first to evolve on dry land. Today, these cone-bearing trees are represented by familiar species such as cedars, firs, and pines. 

It will still be a while before the bed is completed but there is already a lot to see, so do go and take a peek. 

This project has benefted from funding from the Tesco Bags of Help initiative, with a grant of £8,000.

Planting in the Sunken Garden

Our gardeners are busy digging up the flower beds in the Sunken Garden to make way for our next colourful display. 

This spring saw the Sunken Gardens planted with a wonderful display of dark purple tulips sitting in a sea of blue, pink and white forget-me-nots. 

Sky blue coloured forget-me-nots are common in the wild, but the pink and white veritities are less common, so it was a joy to see this colourful display in our gardens this spring. 

Now the flowers are past their prime, they are being dug up by our gardeners, who will be replanting the Sunken Garden with a new display of flowers that are currently being grown in our nursey. 

The new dispaly will carve the beds into geometric triangles of contrasting-coloured flowers. The arrangement will consist red Salvias, pink Verbenas, red Zinnias and purple Nicotiana. 

Keep an eye out for our new display, which will be planted in the next few weeks. 

We would love to see the photos you take of the display - so please tag us @hornimanmuseum on twitter, and share your pictures with the hashtag #horniman on Instagram

Sowing the seeds for future gardeners

Our Head of Horticulture Wesley tells us all about work being done by a group of student horticulturalists.

If you visit the Gardens here at the Horniman on a Monday, you may well have come across an enthusiastic group of students from Capel Manor College working here.

Capel Manor College run a wide range of land-based courses at their centres all over London that cater for all ages and levels. 

These students study on the Level 1 Horticultural Diploma course at the college based in Crystal Palace Park. Led by their tutor Susan Urpeth, this fantastic group of gardeners use our Gardens to practise some of the practical tasks that are part of their studies.

It is a great opportunity for the Horniman to help the next generation of gardeners. And we get lots of extra help with jobs that we usually don't find time for. 

Over the last couple of months, they have rejuvenated shrub borders, planted 1,000s of bulbs, sown wildflower seeds, carried out lawn maintenance and prepared hundreds of pot plants for the Edible High Road Festival which will be happening in Forest Hill from May 7 onwards.

We would like to say a big thank you to Susan and her students for all their work so far this year, and wish them luck in their studies. 

Exploring Baron Samedi

In preparation for our Queer Late event on 12 May, we have been exploring our collections, searching for objects that have connections to queer culture. Here we look at the dandy figure of Baron Samedi.


Have you ever noticed the Vodou shrine in our African Worlds gallery? We often get asked about the objects inside the shrine. What do the objects represent? What is the connection to Vodou faith? Why is the head of the baby from the Dinosaurs TV show in the shrine?



In the shrine you can see four objects placed here for ‘Baron Samedi’ – a Loa (or spirit) of Haitian Vodou faith associated with death and resurrection.


Baron Samedi is the leader of the Barons. He is often shown as a bisexual dandy or occasionally as being transgendered. He wears a top-hat and frock coat along with a women's skirts and shoes. Much of the time he is drinking rum and smoking a large cigar. He has been described as having ‘lascivious movements’ that cross gender boundaries. This is not unusual in Haitian Vodou, as the faith is very open to people of all sexual orientations.



These two flags are made from different-coloured beads and sequins and represent Baron Samedi. The left flag shows a crucifix sitting on top of a coffin with a skull and cross bones in the centre. On one side is a bottle and on the other, a candle. The second flag shows some of the other symbols Baron Samedi is often associated with, such as the playing cards shapes (heart, spade, diamond, and club) and anthropomorphised faces.



Beliefs, mythology and customs brought to Haiti from Africa mixed and fused with Catholic imagery to form the distinctive characteristics of Haitian Vodou we can see on these two crosses made for Baron Samedi. Also, more recent Vodou altars use imagery from the West including Barbie dolls and figures from TV culture to honour the spirits being represented – which might explain the baby dinosaur’s head.


You can see the Vodou shrine in our African Worlds gallery during our Queer Late event.

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